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Impunity at the Freeport Gold & Copper Mine:

Will Indonesian Security Forces Get Away with It Again?

West Papua Advocacy Team Statement

Contact: Edmund McWilliams, West Papua Advocacy Team (New Mexico);  +1.575.648.2078 (English)

Eben Kirksey, Ph.D., University of California (Santa Cruz); +1.831.600.5937 (English or Bahasa Indonesia)

July 23, 2009 - Amidst an ongoing shooting spree at the Freeport McMoRan mining concession in Timika, West Papua, four people have died, including an Australian Freeport employee.  Six separate ambushes have taken place since shootings began on July 11.

A race to find scapegoats appears underway.  Indonesian authorities have arrested as many as 20 individuals. Trusted sources informed the West Papua Advocacy Team that these detainees have been interrogated without the presence of their lawyers and at least one, an elderly man, was beaten by security personnel.  Even after these recent detentions, a convoy of 12 Freeport busses again came under attack by gunmen on Wednesday, 22 July.

This is just the latest chapter in the Freeport story in West Papua - a saga of violence, human rights violations and internationally condemned environmental destruction. For decades, in numerous well-documented cases, the Indonesian security forces and Freeport's own security personnel, have intimidated and repressed local Papuans through extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and other forms of violence and terror.

Indonesian security forces have long exploited the weakness of the Indonesian judicial system to avoid prosecution for criminal activity, including violations of human rights. Nowhere is this more true than in West Papua where the culture of repression lives on beyond former Army General and dictator Suharto's 32-year rule, which ended formally in 1998. The principal victims have been ordinary Papuans, notably those living in the area of the giant Freeport McMoRan mining concession. Indonesian officials and the international community must act to ensure that the people of West Papua are not victimized yet again.

Initial Indonesian police reports suggest that those responsible for the recent attacks were "expert" shooters using weapons commonly found in military and police arsenals. Similar statements were made in 2002, when one Indonesian and two U.S. schoolteachers were killed on the same road. Ballistic evidence and eye-witness testimony pointed to an Indonesian military role in that ambush, but the Bush Administration and Indonesian officials, including recently re-elected President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, orchestrated a cover-up.  An FBI investigation into the 2002 attack is still technically open. Recent history raises grave concerns about finding the truth about this latest incident.  The military has joined the investigation into the latest attacks, making it likely the investigation will again fail to explore evidentiary lines leading to the Indonesian military.

Indonesia and those who lobby for its interests boast of that nation's democratic progress. This latest incident offers a test of that progress:

  • the investigation of this incident must be transparent;

  • the media and independent human rights investigators should be given access to West Papua and specifically the Freeport Concession;

  • security forces which have long operated with impunity must be held accountable if evidence emerges implicating them.

  • in the wake of this tragedy, the Papuan people must not again be subjected to retaliatory military/police action in the form of "sweeps" targeting innocent villagers in the area;

  • the U.S. government and the international community must reject a military takeover of the investigation as well as efforts to stonewall independent investigators as happened in 2002;

  • the U.S. should monitor developments closely to ensure that Indonesian forces do not use U.S. equipment in retaliatory "sweep" operations targeting innocent Papuan civilians as in the past (such sweeps, unrelated to the Freeport incidents, reportedly are already underway);

  • and the Obama administration should focus renewed attention on an open FBI investigation into the killing of the two U.S. schoolteachers in 2002, following up on published accounts of military involvement in those murders.

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